Walter Winchell Show, The

By 1956, when The Walter Winchell Show went on the air, its star was no longer the all-powerful newspaper columnist he had once been. There had been a time when a mention in Winchell’s syndicated gossip/news column would make a career and a pan would destroy it. But newspapers were losing their clout and TV networks were establishing real news divisions. Winchell’s excited delivery had sounded gripping on his radio broadcasts but when he transferred his act to television, he looked silly — an old man reading copy and yelling, pounding randomly on a telegraph key.

Another newspaper columnist, Ed Sullivan, was a success with a variety show on CBS. Sullivan and Winchell loathed each other from past feuds, and some said Winchell was consumed with envy that his old rival was a hit where he was not. The Walter Winchell Show was supposed to rectify that but it was a flop from its first broadcast on October 5, 1956. Unlike Sullivan, who introduced the top acts and then got out of the way, Winchell fancied himself a hoofer and insisted on performing. He also found himself unable to get big stars to appear, as he’d promised the network he could. Ten years earlier, he could have snapped his fingers and had anyone in show business. By ’56, not only did few stars see any reason to curry favor with Winchell (and perhaps alienate Sullivan) but many were still mad at him for things he’d printed about them in the past.

The above ticket is probably from the show’s last New York telecast. In desperation, it was moved to Hollywood in the hope that he could round up stars on that coast. John Wayne showed up, telling reporters who asked, “Walter’s been nice to me for years. It’s about time I kissed his ass.” But Wayne was about the only biggie who appeared and the series was cancelled after thirteen weeks — a humiliating failure. The following year, Walter tried again with The Walter Winchell Files, a cop show anthology based allegedly on cases Winchell had covered in his newspaper days. Another one season disappointment. For all his fame in newspapers and on radio, Walter Winchell was only involved in one success on television. From 1959 to 1963, he was the narrator of the TV series, The Untouchables.